No. 3: Girl's death shook the community

Dec. 31—The morning of Sept. 2 dawned bright and clear, promising a pleasant start to the extended Labor Day weekend. Soon, however, St. Joseph police encountered a crime scene on Mitchell Avenue that left a dark cloud over an entire community.

Authorities discovered the body of 6-year-old Jozyln Beechner, who had been beaten with a baseball bat, on the roof of her home. Her father, Dustin Beechner, was arrested and charged with child abuse resulting in death.

Every violent crime, and certainly every homicide, is a tragedy that strikes close to home for someone. But Jozlyn's death was different. It resonated far and wide among those who knew her and with complete strangers who attended a candlelight vigil in honor of a little girl who loved dogs and stuffed animals.

Even more than that, it generated uncomfortable questions about whether warning signs were missed and if enough is being done to protect other at-risk children in St. Joseph.

Dustin Beechner's death, the result of self-inflicted injuries sustained in jail, closed the book on the criminal aspect of the girl's death. But the void remains for friends, educators and loved ones, and the uncomfortable questions linger for the community at large.

Greg Kozol can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowKozol.